A potential coronavirus vaccine being developed at the University of Oxford will be trialled on people from April 23, Matt Hancock revealed at a Government briefing on April 21.
The vaccine project, which is being run by the Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group, will also receive a further £20 million in funding from the Government.
“We are going to back them to the hilt and give them every resource they need to give them the best chance of success,” the Health Secretary said.
The new injection of cash will go straight into funding the clinical trails, Professor Andrew Pollard, Chief Investigator on the study and Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity at the University of Oxford, said.
“Almost all of that funding will be going on the clinical trial development programme to make sure that we can fully test the vaccine in healthy younger adults,” Prof Pollard told Sky News following the Government’s announcement.
“Then we’ll move on to test the vaccine in other age groups,” he said.
Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, said “several hundred” Britons have now been given the experimental jab, with hopes that “signals” about whether it works could emerge by mid-June.
Just two weeks ago, Prof Pollard and his team said they expected to produce a million doses of their experimental vaccine as early as September; months ahead of the official 12- to 18-month timeline quoted by experts around the world.
While early stage – or phase one – human trials are underway, plans for large-scale production capacity are already being put in place “at risk”.
This means that the shots will be produced in large numbers at risk of being useless if trials show they do not work.
Britons will not get preferential access to any new coronavirus vaccines developed by taxpayer-funded UK universities under a deal announced by Dominic Raab.
The deal with the World Health Organisation means Britain has agreed to work with 20 other countries and global organisations including France, Germany and Italy to find a vaccine and to share the results.
The deal came 24 hours after The Telegraph reported that Health secretary Matt Hancock wanted Britons to benefit first from any vaccine that they funded through their taxes.
While the World Health Organization and Britain’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance have repeatedly said a safe vaccine is at least 12 to 18 months away, the Oxford team are expected to produce a vaccine candidate by late summer.
Last week Professor Adrian Hill, Director of the Jenner Institute, University of Oxford, revealed that the team’s “aim is to have about a million doses by September once we have the results of our vaccine efficacy tests.”
“Then we’ll move even faster from there, because it’s pretty clear that the world is going to need hundreds of millions of doses ideally by the end of the year to end this pandemic and let us out of lockdown safely,” he added.
The Oxford University team’s experimental product, called “ChAdOx1 nCoV-19”, is a type of immunisation known as a recombinant viral vector vaccine and is just one of at least 70 potential Covid-19 candidate shots under development by biotech and research teams around the world.
The vaccine was chosen as the most suitable vaccine technology for the virus as it can generate a strong immune response from one dose, said the team.
When asked how they managed to move the usually lengthy process of vaccine approval along so quickly, Professor Sarah Gilbert, who is leading the study, said it was their ongoing research into Disease X – an as yet unknown infectious agent earmarked as a potential pandemic in the making – which allowed them to pivot so quickly to Covid-19.
“Last year my team was already working on vaccines against Lassa Fever, Mers, which is another coronavirus vaccine, and also Disease X,” Professor Gilbert said.
“Obviously we didn’t know what kind of pathogen Disease X was going to be but we were putting plans in place in case it did pop up and we needed to respond to it.”
The particular type of technology the team is testing has also quickened the process.
“The ChAdOx vaccine, is a so-called platform technology, which can be used to make vaccines against lots of different diseases.”
“We understand the technology really well and the ethical and regulatory bodies are also really familiar with it… and so that allows us to move faster when we need to.”
Earlier this month Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates issued an urgent call for world leaders to unite and start planning how vaccines will be manufactured and distributed now, to avoid a potentially deadly delay in delivering the treatment further down the line.
“We aren’t sure which vaccines will be the most effective yet, and each requires unique technology to make,” he said.
“That means nations need to invest in many different kinds of manufacturing facilities now, knowing that some will never be used. Otherwise, we’ll waste months after the lab develops an immunization, waiting for the right manufacturer to scale up.”
Once a viable vaccine is found, it is estimated that billions of doses will be needed – a challenge that will involve international collaboration in order to meet demand.
“Most G20 countries do not have vaccine manufacturing capacity and no country knows for sure it will have that facility for Covd-19”, said Dr Richard Hatckett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi).
For the Oxford Team, the million or so doses will be manufactured by partners in Britain, Europe, India and China, Prof Hill revealed.
And if the vaccine proves to be successful then the team will apply for “emergency use approval” to roll out the inoculation programme immediately.
“All this work has been done unusually quickly,” Prof Hill admitted. But the team is confident the vaccine will be a success.
“There’s always an unknown. We can never be certain that these vaccines will work,” said Prof Gilbert. “But personally I think it has a very strong chance of working.”